Australian Journeys<br>From Hordern House
By Michael Stillman
Hordern House is a major resource for those who collect antiquarian and rare books from Australia. Their latest catalogue is called “Australian Journeys,” and it is a collection of travels and expeditions on that continent when much of it was still uncharted. It is filled with 19th century explorations into the harsh interior of a continent then known only to its aboriginal inhabitants, some friendly to outsiders, others not. This is a catalogue not to be missed by those interested in early Australian explorations.
There are many items in the catalogue pertaining to the Burke and Wills expedition. This was an attempt to be the first party to cross Australia from south to north. The expedition was well-financed and provisioned, but with inexperienced leadership, notably Robert Burke the commander, it turned into a failure and disaster. Burke led second-in-command John Wills and a few others from the group on an advance mission to Cooper’s Creek, and when the others did not catch up soon enough to suit him, Burke, Wills, and two others pushed ahead, leaving William Brahe behind to wait for their return. They would reach the northern salt marshes, but never the ocean itself. On returning to Cooper’s Creek much later than anticipated, they just missed Brahe, who had set back only hours earlier, leaving some, but not enough, provisions. Burke’s party, already hungry and tired, decided to try for the nearest settlement, but was unsuccessful. Both Burke and Wills perished from starvation while only one member, with help from the aboriginal natives, made it back.
There were more almost comedic errors in this ill-fated journey. When William Brahe met up with the rest of the original party, they returned to Coopers Creek for one more look, but did not realize Burke’s party had ever returned. Then, Burke sent Wills back to Coopers Creek for one more look but he, too, did not realize that the others had returned. Pushing on, and increasingly dependent on the Aborigines for food, Burke offended them by refusing fish they offered, evidently embarrassed by their dependence on “inferior” people. The result was that both of the expedition’s leaders would starve.
Items 3-13 in this catalogue all pertain to the Burke and Wills expedition. Included are many contemporary reports on the expedition, portraits of both Burke and Wills, and inquiries into the disastrous outcome. Items 45-49 pertain to the William Landsborough journey to find Burke and Wills. Landsborough found new lands suitable for settlement, but not his fellow explorers, and would suffer a difficult journey home himself.